There are reasons that the parents of Amerasian hāfu don’t want to talk much about those days. One main reason is trauma—the trauma of war devastation, the trauma of Japanese forms of ostracization and brutality that are too painful to bear. The effects of this, as well as witnessing others close to people—behaviors and actions, are also traumatic. For some people, their mothers or fathers were Amerasian, from orphanages or the streets, who came to America with most likely, either a strongly one-pointed goal of getting out of Japan, or perhaps by chance, as their destinies were in the hands of those who sold them and traded them, and sent them. In any case, their lives were full of the traumas and courageous actions and endurances required in those times.
What our mothers and their friends, their parents and brothers and sisters did to us, or to those close to us—most people are intimate with. There is much to want to forget, to put behind. Did they kill their hāfu baby? Give away their baby? Left their baby on a train on the way from Kanagawa or Yokohama or Gifu or wherever they lived? Perhaps taking the infant to an orphanage was what they decided. Did the brother, father or grandfather beat mother for bringing shame? Did they throw mother out of the house? Banish her from the family? Did they hide the mother or infant, as much as possible to protect them? Were there honor killings? I know of a few people whose mothers were killed by a relative or spouse for bringing dishonor to the family—for giving birth to an ainoko (mixed-race love child of the former western enemy). And then there is the hāfu child—people like me.
Even if a person is not Amerasian, racisms are intense and soul-crushing. Being targeted, we must learn many different defense mechanisms to be able to carry on. 知らん顔 shirankao—ignoring those brutalities, is the most common. For boys, physically fighting back is the most common way to resist. Although I was a so-called boy, I was not a fighter. So I would let the boys beat me without defending myself. They would stop, I think, sooner than if I did fight back. There were many days and nights where Mama had to attend to wounds from stones being thrown at me, or stick and fist marks and bruises. I survived. They would go alongside the name-calling: 黒んぼ! or 間の子! (kurombo or ainoko). I, as one example, never wanted to forget these instances. But I had to ignore them to live my life. When I was a teenager, I began writing some these down, as far as I could remember.
Although I was a so-called boy, I was not a fighter. So I would let the boys beat me without defending myself. They would stop, I think, sooner than if I did fight back.
And yet, this response, of being a quiet, non-fighting boy, brings on new pain. The pain of being called a “sissy” and a “faggot” and “a coward” by other boys and their girl friends. When word would get around at school or in the neighborhood, especially in Albuquerque, New Mexico, suddenly people making limp-wrist remarks at me, feigning lisps (to indirectly call me a faggot), and many other ways of humiliating and killing the spirit. I learned to keep quiet and not respond (although it hurt). Soon it would all go away. But of course scars—emotional and physical, are left. It was bad enough that some people would call me Mama’s boy, and even my own father would sometimes call me this. Being raised by Mama, in postwar Japan, as Black-Japanese Amerasian hāfu, made for a series of ways in which to be humiliated, then compounded in America. As well, it was also a series of life events that would make me stronger, more aware and sensitive about certain things—an accumulated knowledge different from those not made to think of certain things, along with a hint of paranoia. Paranoia may be delusional but also has saved my life.
Another reason that many older hāfu who could be categorized as Amerasian, would soon forget, or become confused. Often, the pushing out of memory was purposeful, to create a new identity in America. Sometimes it was just a product of getting older, combined with wanting to forget as something past. Not all Amerasians experienced more than a few traumatizing events.
In addition, we may buy into and assimilate into, the “positivity” that the Americans and the Japanese require for us to be “normal” and “productive” in neo-liberal, capitalist, and/or Confucian societies.
But certainly, at least for myself, for many years—the reason for staying quiet and not talking about our pasts, our “unpleasant experiences,” was exhaustion. The repetition of certain kinds of responses to hearing our stories, is burdening. In addition, we may buy into and assimilate into, the “positivity” that the Americans and the Japanese require for us to be “normal” and “productive” in neo-liberal, capitalist, and/or Confucian societies.
I know quite a few children and grandchildren of Amerasians, who became interested in finding out more about their parent or grandparent’s life, who were disappointed when that parent did not want to talk about, or would obviously “white-wash” the facts of their earlier lives in Japan.
Much like the veterans who return from war fields, older Amerasians have lived after the cultural battles they fought in Japan, arriving in America, with experiences not articulate-able to some of our closest relations.
I think for myself, I was “lucky” in that I shared with my mother some of our most difficult stories from Japan. Even then, she would not share, until decades later, some of the more painful and dramatic stories, which changed my views of my mother in huge ways. Memories are difficult. There are stories of trauma such as those I’ve named, and also there are stories that are not traumatic, necessarily, but would be deemed unacceptable and bring further exclusion or wrath. People often do not understand paths of survival in traumatizing times.
Much like the veterans who return from war fields, older Amerasians have lived after the cultural battles they fought in Japan, arriving in America, with experiences not articulate-able to some of our closest relations. When we tell our stories of our parents, then, perhaps we have the responsibility to acquire knowledge of those times and become more sensitive to the nuances of story-telling, forgiveness, empathy, and memory. With understanding, silence communicates many things.
Featured Image by Edward M. Haugh
Image of Fredrick Cloyd's Mother courtesy of Fredrick Cloyd